NCC to Carry out Checks on Financial, Technical Status of Telcos

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Emma Okonji

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), telecoms industry regulator, said it has commenced a thorough check to determine the financial and technical status of all licensed telecommunications operators in the country.

The essence of the periodic check, according to the commission, is to ascertain the financial and technical health status of telecoms operators as well as ensure they are financially and technically fit to apply for loans for network expansion.

The Director, Stakeholders’ Management at the NCC, Mr. Sunday Dare disclosed this in Lagos at a recent event organised by the commission. He explained that the move became necessary in order to forestall a recurrence of the 9mobile experience, where the telecom company became indebted to a consortium of 13 banks that loaned it $1.2 billion, and was unable to repay the loan, based on the agreement reached by parties.

Dare said the situation, which compelled the telecoms company to change its brand identity and set up a new board of directors after dissolving the former, was huge embarrassment to the telecoms industry, and should not be allowed to recur.

Dare said: “In order to avert a repeat of the 9mobile experience, the NCC has set up a team of financial experts that are currently checking the financial books of telecoms operators in the country. The team also comprises of technical experts that will check the technical status of the networks in order to ascertain the technical fitness of the networks in terms of call success rates and service quality.”

He further explained that any operator, whose financial books are not up to date and whose network falls short of the required benchmark, would be sanctioned.

Former Etisalat Nigeria, now 9mobile, in 2013, approached a consortium of 13 local banks for a loan of $1.2 billion for network upgrade and expansion.

Its inability to repay the loan, led to the withdrawal of Abu-Dhabi-based Emirates Telecommunications Group Company (Etisalat Group), from its shareholding structure, leaving the other two core investors, Mubadala Development Company of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services (EMTS), made up of Nigerian group of investors.

Few days after it pulled out of the shareholding structure, six Mubadala and Etisalat Group-appointed Non-executive Directors (NEDs), all nationals of the United Arab Emirates, resigned their appointments, an action that was shortly followed by the resignation of the former board chairman, Mr. Hakeem Bello-Osagie, a Nigerian. Thereafter, its former Managing Director/Chief Executive, Mr. Matthew Willsher and the former Chief Finance Officer, Mr. Olawole Obasunloye also resigned their appointments. A five man board was reconstituted, with Dr. Joseph Nnanna, an economist and Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, as the new board chairman; Mr. Boye Olusanya, the former Deputy Managing Director of Celtel, which now operates as Airtel Nigeria, as its Managing Director/Chief Executive; and Mrs. Funke Ighodaro as Chief Finance Officer. Others are Mr. Oluseyi Bickersteth as NED and Mr. Ken Igbokwe as NED.

Etisalat international thereafter issued a three-week ultimatum to the Nigerian operators to stop using the Etisalat brand name, a situation that compelled the telecoms company to change its brand identity to 9mobile.